My Teaching Journey

through the intersection of math and middle school

Monthly Archives: January 2012

Area Diagrams to Scale

Mathy McMatherson requested a little help with an area diagram to scale. The result is not as nice as something Dan Meyer or others could make, but hopefully it will do for now. Perhaps one day I’ll ask my wife to show me the ropes of Adobe Illustrator.

Check out the Microsoft Word 2007 file or the PDF file.

Included shapes: square yard, square foot, square inch, square centimeter

My Classroom

The view of my classroom from the door. The whiteboard and front of the room are to the right.

I always enjoy visiting other teachers’ classrooms and seeing how they have crafted their physical space to accomodate their learners and their personality. I thought it would be fitting to share my classroom.

1. Two sets of trays for papers (one set of papers to be graded and one set of papers to be handed back); there is one tray for each period in each set

2. Tables – I started the year with traditional rows and then transitioned to pairs once my students learned my expectations. I have recently transitioned to tables of four. I’ll write about how that is going in another post. I haven’t abandoned it yet, though, so that’s an indication that it is doing as well or better than pairs.

3. The Back Shelf – There is a section for each period to leave their binders when I collect them for notebook checks. Some students choose to leave them in class when they don’t have homework.

4. Paper chains  – Each class has a paper chain; it’s length is determined by their behavior during class. I’ll write more about this topic in another post.

5. The Georgia Performance Standards – These are all of the standards that I teach my students during 8th grade. They cover the wall on both sides of the visible window. The set on the very right that are cut off is where they end. I use an arrow with silly putty to show the current standard or element.

6. My Desk – It’s in the back of the room rather than the front. I decided that I was sitting too much before or after school while doing work on my computer, so I moved my desk to the back. It serves a great purpose there by defending my cabinet and window from curious students; last year I was frequently bothered when students opened the window, but this year I haven’t had any problems. It is also currently serving at my student teacher’s desk since I rarely use it.

The view from the back. The previous picture was taken from the open door.

7. Word wall – The words for the current unit live behind the door. That way they are easy for everyone it see.

8. Shelf by the door – The pencil sharpener is on the shelf (in a plastic crate to prevent shavings from running amuck – it’s amazing!), as well as a sign-out sheet and three-hole punch for student use.

9. Small whiteboard – At the beginning of the year, I chose two students each week to be my classroom helpers. They would be the students I picked all week when I needed to hand out or collect papers, calculators, white boards, etc. I stopped using them consistently, so I changed the whiteboard to show the topic of the day, which I want students to write in their agenda daily. It also shows that night’s homework assignment.

10. Days of the week – I write upcoming events here for students to see, such as due dates, quizzes, or class events.

11. Whiteboard – This section of the whiteboard holds the date, essential question, and current standard (yes, again). I write the topic of the standard rather than the standard verbatim, and also list vocabulary that we will be using.

12. Smartboard – I wish it would calibrate properly and stay calibrated. I could teach without a Smartboard, but not without a projector. I do have a wireless slate from SmartTech, which I like a lot.

13. Clipboards – I use one for each class with a new page each week to record grades, attendance, and behavioral issues. This is a recently implemented system, and while I don’t love having to remember to grab the clipboard at the beginning of each class, it makes documentation and attendance a breeze. It also fits in the the school-wide PBIS revisions that I recently helped implement.

14. Laptop – While I moved my desk to the back of the class, my laptop had to stay at the front to connect to the projector. I used a short filing cabinet and two milk crates to create a standing desk. It prevents me from losing track of time before or after school because I have to stand to complete any work.

Now that you’ve seen mine, care to share and suggestions? How can I improve any of the systems I mentioned, or what do you have in your classroom that I could implement to make my life easier or my teaching better?

The Unforeseen Monster

We may have a gambling problem at school.

Let me explain. My school has a great new principal, and one of the things she encouraged early in the year were revisions to our positive behavior system. We resurrected the PBIS committee (we say “P-B-I-S” because “peebis” makes everyone feel awkward). I’m one of the co-facilitators.

The faculty that volunteered to be a part of the committee are awesome, dedicated, hardworking teachers. They had some amazing ideas. After many weeks, we settled on a pseudo-real world model where teachers pay students weekly with our school currency (the Pawbuck) based on the student’s individual behavior. Each student starts at a pay rate of 5 Pawbucks in each period and can lose them for a variety of infractions (being tardy or absent, not following class rules, etc). Students can earn up to 35 Pawbucks each week since they have 7 classes.

We had Pawbucks, but they were photocopied on different colored paper by grade level and looked, to be polite, lame. So, we enlisted a teacher who is a former graphic designer to create new Pawbucks for the school. We decided to have them printed as business cards so they are sturdier can can be reused; the school ordered 30,000 of them. (On a side note, I was very impressed with the customer service at Vistaprint when I called to order them).

Also, the only place the students could use the old Pawbucks was in the school store, which had offerings that few students considered spectacular. The PBIS committee created a list of incentives that students would like based on student surveys, thus making the Pawbucks desirable. The incentives include Sunshine breaks, no uniform days, and eat anywhere in the cafeteria days, among others.

Last Monday was the first payday. In class today, I overheard one student talking about how they had bet another student that the University of Alabama would win the BCS Championship game. The other students was apparently a fan of Louisiana State, so they took the bet. Student 2 lost all of his Pawbucks to Student 1. Our school currency is so valuable now that it is being used to gamble! The part of the tale that makes it even better is that Student 1 has a difficult time earning Pawbucks in class. He earned 3 or 4 of a possible 10 from me last week (I have him for two periods).  Ah, middle schoolers! How I never tire of working with you!

We wanted to implement a system that is analogous to the real world. We didn’t think about what some adults do with their money once they earn it. Oh well. Baby steps, right?

I found out more information about the unforeseen monster. Some seventh grade students were caught in the bathroom playing craps with their Pawbucks; they may have also been playing during a school assembly. In eighth grade, students are bartering with their Pawbucks. One student sold a pair of headphones to another student in exchange for Pawbucks; another student sold a watch.